No Comment — December 7, 2009, 11:15 am

Three Deaths at Gitmo Raise Chilling Questions

On June 10, 2006, the Pentagon announced that three prisoners held at Guantánamo’s Camp Delta had committed suicide. But senior Bush Administration officials quickly went one step further: violating the normal rules of decorum, they unleashed intense verbal abuse against the deceased. Prison commander Rear Admiral Harry Harris said, “This was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetric warfare committed against us.” Senior Bush State Department official Colleen Graffy called the deaths “a good PR move” and “a tactic to further the jihadi cause.” An investigation was prepared by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service that backed up these claims, but it was only released in fragmentary form months later. Were these aggressive comments and an almost incomprehensible NCIS report intentionally obscuring very different facts?

Now an exhaustive study by faculty and students at New Jersey’s Seton Hall University—the eleventh in their authoritative series—takes aim at the NCIS report and concludes that it’s little more than a “cover up.” Professor Mark Denbeaux, who directed the effort, told me in an interview that it was “Gitmo meets Lord of the Flies.” The NCIS report itself showed flagrant violations of Guantánamo’s own operating procedures and presented facts that are impossible to reconcile with its conclusions that the deaths were “suicides” resulting from a “conspiracy” among the three prisoners—one of whom was about to be released and return home. Read the full report here (PDF), and my summary of it and my interview with Denbeaux at the Huffington Post.

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Editor's Note

Many comedians consider stand-up the purest form of comedy; Doug Stanhope considers it the freest. “Once you do stand-up, it spoils you for everything else,” he says. “You’re the director, performer, and producer.” Unlike most of his peers, however, Stanhope has designed his career around exploring that freedom, which means choosing a life on the road. Perhaps this is why, although he is extremely ambitious, prolific, and one of the best stand-ups performing, so many Americans haven’t heard of him. Many comedians approach the road as a means to an end: a way to develop their skills, start booking bigger venues, and, if they’re lucky, get themselves airlifted to Hollywood. But life isn’t happening on a sit-com set or a sketch show — at least not the life that has interested Stanhope. He isn’t waiting to be invited to the party; indeed, he’s been hosting his own party for years.

Because of the present comedy boom, civilians are starting to hear about Doug Stanhope from other comedians like Ricky Gervais, Sarah Silverman, and Louis CK. But Stanhope has been building a devoted fan base for the past two decades, largely by word of mouth. On tour, he prefers the unencumbered arrival and the quick exit: cheap motels where you can pull the van up to the door of the room and park. He’s especially pleased if there’s an on-site bar, which increases the odds of hearing a good story from the sort of person who tends to drink away the afternoon in the depressed cities where he performs. Stanhope’s America isn’t the one still yammering on about its potential or struggling with losing hope. For the most part, hope is gone. On Word of Mouth, his 2002 album, he says, “America may be the best country, but that’s like being the prettiest Denny’s waitress. Just because you’re the best doesn’t make you good.”

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